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Sally Bowles
Liza Minnelli Cabaret 1972 crop.JPG
Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in the 1972 film
First appearance Sally Bowles (1937 novella)
Created by Christopher Isherwood

Sally Bowles is a fictional character created by Christopher Isherwood. She originally appeared in Isherwood's 1937 novella Sally Bowles published by Hogarth Press. The story was later republished in the novel Goodbye to Berlin.

Sally is a central character in the 1951 John Van Druten stage play I Am a Camera, the 1955 film of the same name, the 1966 musical stage adaptation Cabaret and the 1972 film adaptation of the musical.

Creation and description

Sally Bowles is based on Jean Ross, a woman Isherwood knew during the years he lived in Berlin between the World Wars (1929—1933). Isherwood took the last name "Bowles" from Paul Bowles, whom he had met in Berlin in 1931. Explaining his choice, he wrote, "[I] liked the sound of it and also the looks of its owner".[1]

He describes Sally by writing:

I noticed that her finger-nails were painted emerald green, a colour unfortunately chosen, for it called attention to her hands, which were much stained by cigarette smoking and as dirty as a little girl's. She was dark....Her face was long and thin, powdered dead white. She had very large brown eyes which should have been darker, to match her hair and the pencil she used for her eyebrows.[2]

In the novel Sally is British, purporting to be the daughter of a Lancashire mill owner and an heiress. She is a singer at an underground club called The Lady Windermere. Isherwood describes her singing as poor but surprisingly effective "because of her startling appearance and her air of not caring a curse what people thought of her".[3] She aspires to be an actress or, as an alternative, to ensnare a wealthy man to keep her. Unsuccessful at both, Sally departs Berlin and is last heard from in the form of a postcard sent from Rome with no return address.

Isherwood apparently began writing the story that would become Sally Bowles in 1933, writing to friend Olive Mangeot in July of that year that he had written it.[4] He continued to revise it over the next three years, completing his final draft on June 21, 1936.[5] In a letter to poet and editor John Lehmann dated January 16, 1936, Isherwood briefly outlined the piece, envisioning it as part of his novel The Lost (which became Mr Norris Changes Trains). He describes it as akin to the work of Anthony Hope and as "an attempt to satirize the romance-of-prostitution racket".[6] Later in 1936 Isherwood submitted the piece to Lehmann for possible publication in his literary magazine, New Writing. Lehmann liked the piece but felt that it was too long for his magazine. He was also concerned about the inclusion in the manuscript of Sally's abortion, fearing that his printers might refuse to typeset it, and about the possibility that Jean Ross might file a libel action. In a January 1937 letter, Isherwood explained his belief that without the abortion incident Sally would be reduced to "a silly little capricious bitch" and that the omission would leave the story without a climax.[7] Ross hesitated in giving her permission to publish, worried that the abortion episode, which was not fictional, would strain her relationship with her family.[8] Ross ultimately gave her permission and Hogarth published the volume later that year.[7]

Isherwood never revealed publicly that Jean Ross was his inspiration for Sally until after her death in 1973. Despite this, those who knew her had little difficulty in spotting her as the character's genesis. Ross did not seek any benefit or publicity from her association with the character and, when sought out by reporters when Cabaret was first mounted on stage, declined all invitations to see the show.[9]

In his diary from October 1958, Isherwood records that a composer named Don Parks had expressed interest in writing a musical based on Sally but that Isherwood planned to deny him permission.[10]


Julie Harris originated the role of Sally Bowles in John Van Druten's 1951 play I Am a Camera, for which she received the 1952 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.[11] Isherwood described Harris as "more essentially Sally Bowles than the Sally of my book, and much more like Sally than the real girl who long ago gave me the idea for my character".[12] Barbara Baxley took over the role when Harris departed.[13] Harris recreated the role in 1955 for the film adaptation, also called I Am a Camera. Dorothy Tutin starred as Sally in a successful 1954 British stage production.[14]

When I Am a Camera was adapted into the musical Cabaret in 1966, Jill Haworth originated the role of Sally. As the run continued, Penny Fuller, Anita Gillette and Melissa Hart also played the part. Cabaret was revived on Broadway in 1987 with Alyson Reed playing Sally. The musical was revived again in 1998 with Natasha Richardson as Sally. Richardson won the 1998 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.[13] As the run continued, actresses including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Susan Egan, Joely Fisher, Gina Gershon, Deborah Gibson, Teri Hatcher, Melina Kanakaredes, Jane Leeves, Molly Ringwald, Brooke Shields and Lea Thompson appeared in the role. The 2014 Broadway revival starred Michelle Williams as Sally, with Emma Stone and Sienna Miller as subsequent replacements.[15]

Cabaret debuted on the West End in 1968 with Judi Dench in the role of Sally. West End revivals have featured Kelly Hunter (1986), Toyah Willcox (1987), Jane Horrocks (1993) and Anna Maxwell Martin (2006) playing the part.

Samantha Barks portrayed the role in the 2008—2009 UK National Tour.

The stage musical adaptation was itself adapted for film, in 1972's Cabaret. This Sally differs from her predecessors in that she is not British but American. Liza Minnelli won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Sally.[16]

Use by other authors

Sally Bowles's life after the events of Goodbye to Berlin was imagined in After the Cabaret by Hilary Bailey (1998), in which young American academic Greg Peters tries to piece together the missing links of Sally's life for a new biography.[17]


  1. ^ Isherwood, Christopher (1976). Christopher and His Kind: A Memoir, 1929-1939. New York City: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 60. ISBN 978-0374535223.
  2. ^ Isherwood, Christopher (1934). Goodbye to Berlin. New York City: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. p. 22. ISBN 978-0811220248.
  3. ^ Goodbye to Berlin, p. 25
  4. ^ Fryer, p. 160
  5. ^ Fryer, p. 162
  6. ^ quoted in Lehmann, p. 27
  7. ^ a b Lehmann, pp. 28—9
  8. ^ Christopher and His Kind, p. 245
  9. ^ Fryer, p. 164
  10. ^ Diaries, p. 785
  11. ^ Wilmeth, p. 315
  12. ^ The Berlin Stories, p. vii
  13. ^ a b Sally Bowles
  14. ^ Lehmann, p. 79
  15. ^ Dziemianowicz, Joe (August 20, 2014). "Emma Stone to join Broadway's 'Cabaret' in November, replacing Michelle Williams". New York Daily News. New York City: Tronc. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  16. ^ Buck, Jerry (March 28, 1973). "Lizi Minnelli Is Named Best Actress — Brando Won't Accept Oscar". Youngstown (OH) Vindicator. Associated Press. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  17. ^ Bailey, Hilary (2012). After the Cabaret. London, England: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1448209422.


  • Fryer, Jonathan (1977). Isherwood: A Biography. Garden City, NY, Doubleday & Company. ISBN 0-385-12608-5.
  • Isherwood, Christopher (1935). Goodbye to Berlin. Collected in The Berlin Stories. ISBN 0-8112-0070-1 (New Directions Paperbook edition).
  • Isherwood, Christopher (1963). The Berlin Stories. New Directions. ISBN 0-8112-0070-1.
  • Isherwood, Christopher (1976). Christopher and His Kind. Avon Books, a division of The Hearst Corporation. ISBN 0-380-01795-4 (Discus edition).
  • Isherwood, Christopher, and Katherine Bucknell (ed.) (1996). Diaries Volume One: 1939—1960. Michael di Capua Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-118000-9.
  • Lehmann, John (1987). Christopher Isherwood: A Personal Memoir. New York, Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-1029-7.
  • Wilmeth, Don B. (2007). The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. Cambridge University Press. 2007. ISBN 0-521-83538-0.

External links

This page was last edited on 25 June 2018, at 01:04
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